Habits of successful artists – Spark 4: Fail often.


  1. Lack of success.
  2. The neglect or omission of expected or required action.
  3. The action or state of not functioning.

Failure is apparently no longer an option. People and organisations are becoming more afraid to fail than of not to act.

Indulge me in making a case for some kind of failing…

First: people as a species are not good in risk estimates. We tend to overestimate the probability of events that in reality only have a very low chance of occurring (some scientific reading for a change). That should already make you more at ease with falling into analysis paralysis. There is probably always one more check you can do before you actually move over to action — in order to make sure you have covered every base — but in reality, the subject of your extra effort probably will never occur in the first place.

Second: there is failing and failing. I want to make the case for quick and controlled failing.
Quick as in: don’t waste 70% of your resources on analysis, because in the end you will not only have no resources left to actually make something happen, you will also have noticed that you lost that much time that reality (the basis of your initial assumptions) has changed in the meanwhile .
Controlled as in an environment with limited impact and monitored (to enable you to learn and tweak).

Third: To really create something extra-ordinary, to go where no man (m/f) has gone before, there is no guidebook, so the change you can either calculate the outcome upfront or — just by good luck — end up with something perfect the first time, is close to 0% (which shows some interesting light on point one of course).

So set up a controllable place that enables you to fail… often!

Extra: Now is the time to start failing. The last decade is failure open for some setback (just look at the use of the word in the image below ;-)).


Habits of successful artists: Spark 1 — Learn to sell what you have made.

Reading the book ‘The Icarus deception’ from Seth Godin, I came upon this list:

“The habits of successful artists”

  • Learn to sell what you have made.
  • Say thank you in writing.
  • Speak in public.
  • Fail often.
  • See the world as it is.
  • Make predictions.
  • Teach others.
  • Write daily.
  • Connect others.
  • Lead a tribe.

It stroke me with that much inspiration, that I decided to write one article on each (or try at least, no sense in sharing nonsense also). Easy peasy: in the order they appear.

First up: Learn to sell what you have made.

I couldn’t agree more. I’m the first to take blame, but being able to ship is in my opinion the key differentiating element for companies big and small. For some reason, in small companies, it seems like the natural thing to do. Probably because shipping there is the only way to generate revenue to pay for the cost you made. Off course, this is not different in large companies, but apparently, there is moment where companies come at a stage where the direct impact of not generating revenue right away is not that visible anymore. If you are big enough, there is no risk that you will not be able to pay your cost at the end of the week (off course, also this is an illusion, but perception is everything off course).

Another element might be that the (perceived) risk of doing some wrong is bigger in a big company than in a small. Putting it this way: if you are a one man company and you screw up big time, you need to find another job and you need to work during the week end to pay of some debt, if you are a company with 1000 employees and you screw up as a company, 1000 people need to find a new job and millions are lost for shareholders. And off course, most shareholders don’t like risk…

The only way out of this is to start putting a risk premium on ‘not shipping’, on ‘not doing anything’ or ‘doing as last year and hoping that the outcome will not be too much different’. In economical terms: this is not only the opportunity cost, but also the cost of loosing your first mover advantage or even the cost of becoming obsolete.

Whenever you think: I will not present these figures to my boss this week because it’s not what he wants to hear and I want to check some extra figures, force yourself to not only put into the equation your fear (Seth would call it ‘your lizard brain’), but also the cost of loosing one week time in adapting if you prove to be right…

Shipping this article now!

Also available on Medium.

The end of CRM, the start of MRM

In BtB, it’s about Market Relationschip Management

Customer Relationschip Management systems, programs & processes are the cornerstone of every modern company. Without them, it’s impossible to assure a good customer relationschip (especially in large companies, where everybody takes one part of the customer interaction): When your support people take up the phone, they want to make sure the customer instantly feels connected because your agent knows who he is, knows what products/services he has from your company, what is important for him, how happy he is, what are his outstanding invoices,…

It’s clear that there are a lot of solutions on the market (from the very large SAP / Siebel / Microsoft kind of solutions towards the smaller cloud solutions (Nutshell, Highrise,…).

When implementing these tools, the tricky part comes: We tend to implement them from a customer perspective (clearly, hence the C in CRM). However — especially in a B2B environment — the market is typically smaller and more stable. It can happen that a customer is leaving you, but comes back in 2 years, or is shifting part of his portfolio to you from a competitor because you have a new kind of product/service. If you want to do things right, we should stop building CRM processes and tools, but start working with Market Relationschip models (MRM): A customer who leaves you is the best lead you’ll ever have: you know his business, you know what is crucial for him (the thing he left you for might give a hint), you already have his contact information, you know his needs (at least partly: the products/services he ordered with you in the past),…

In data-model terms: stop seeing a prospect, a customer and a lost customer as different entities, they are merely charasteristics of the same entity. See it as a tag on a company name that you can use to differentiate your approach towards them (on your complete marketing mix).

How to you handle your CRM processes?


Also available on Medium.

Internal communication is not a business unit.

Typically, it goes like this: In small companies, internal communication is done by the owner of the company. It’s not in her job description (owner’s don’t tend to have a formal job description in the first place), she just feels the need to communicate to her company. All of a sudden, in larger companies, it becomes the role description of a dedicated person or even a whole business unit.

The people in this unit then can start the work of a miner. They constantly need to push all people in the organisation for information (Do we have a new product that we should push on the corporate website? Is there a new big client the CEO can use as a reference when talking to industry leaders? How good is the knowledge of all employees on corporate strategy?…). I can only begin to image how difficult their work must be. They are faced with a situation where every employee is their source of information on the one side (but nobody has off course the time to produce direct usable information) and the complete organisation is also their target group.

Off course, this is about knowledge and the thing about knowledge networks is that every single person has an interest in learning (getting knowledge), but not directly in sharing his own knowledge (because that off course takes time). As the value of the knowledge network is mainly defined by the individual pieces of knowledge in it and everybody seems to value the power of knowledge, we should try to push more the boundaries of the typical knowledge role of internal communication in large companies.

I would argue that ‘internal communication’ should not be the formal role of one or more people, it should be a part of the role description of every single employee. The role of internal communication should be transformed into a curating one:

  • enable the knowledge sharing and learning (through dead easy tools);
  • reward knowledge sharing;
  • create and archive of the most important knowledge;
  • create flows of knowledge exchange in all directions in the organisation.

Seems a lot more fun than bugging people for information also…

How is your internal communication team oriented?


Discuss also on Medium

Getting trough the silos (process evolution). A new C-level position?

When you start as an entrepreneur, life is hard, but straightforward when it comes to getting things done: you and you alone are responsible. If the product needs a new price, you do it. It you need to update the packaging, you do it. It’s always you. If things go wrong, you are responsible. If things go great, it’s you who made it happen.

The larger organisations become, the more processes, governance structures and job descriptions with clear lines between what is job of person A and what is the job of person B. At some moment in time, you arrive at a situation where processes seem to define everything. “Computer says no” becomes a reality. What really is the issue is when people start believing that there is a process for everything because this implies that having an issue, opportunity, idea,… that can not be funnelled in an existing process… cannot exist. In the mind of people fallen into the ‘a process for everything’-trap, it is virtually impossible to grasp the fact that their might be an idea that does not follow the ‘processes’. It’s a bit like telling to a medieval family that the earth is round. It’s just beyond their way of thinking. To make things even more complex, there is probably a separate silo in the organisation that even is responsible for processes. They tend to be the one that guard the processes…

It’s clear that innovation or even being able to adapt to the changing market in an organisation as this is … well … just not imaginable.

Now imagine a new C-level executive, directly reporting to the CEO. (S)he has no direct reports, no teams, just an MOO-printed business card and carte blanche to investigate each process, follow on every lead (because every employee can send Kafka-like stuff or roadblocks to and force easier ways of working. He does not have to make a business case to change things, it’s the current process owner who is responsible for the business cases that proves that his current process is still the best).

What impact would this have on your organisation? Sounds like an interesting job to me!

Article also on Medium.

Focus and organisation setup.

Getting focus in a world full of distractions (personally, I would call them more positively more inspirational inputs ;-)) can get you in some kind of idea paralysis. When you get to much inputs, idea’s, projects, opportunities,… the risk is imminent to overload your system and stop actually realising things.

There is a reason why in typical team profiles, there is paid a lot of attention in getting balanced teams: you need people who generate ideas, challenge them, other people to get the stuff actually done and still others for maintaing the survice (and often forgotten: others to monitor it). The challenge today is that organisations expect more and more for individual people to be able to generate ideas, implement them, get them to customers, monitor them,…

To get to this ideal situation, let’s train people to exchange information (learn from the guy that is good in implementation and the girl that is good in follow-up) and most of all: enable (stimulate even!) them to create small working units that can get the complete development cycle done without having to worry to much about rigid organisational structures. This way you will enable a way of working where the best people for each specific project get the work done (because typically for launching an internet product to BtB customers, you need Marlies to do the implementation, where you would need René if it is about an technical service for BtC customers).

Off course, you need some kind of ‘driving’ focus. To stir up the discussion, as a marketeer, I would tend to argue that your customer segment should be the overall umbrella (and not: product range, sales channel,…). What do you think? How does your organisation works today??

IT architecture of the future.

IT Architecture is grasping to keep up.

Today, most major enterprises struggle with on of the following IT architectures:

  • A custom developped core system in a program language no developper below the age of 50 speaks, with a mish-mash of different applications build on that core (from access db scripts written by somebody 10 years ago to interfaces to create interactive websites by an ad agency).
  • An industry standard ERP system (think SAP) build for massive transactions 10 years ago and tweaked by countless waves of consultants and internal IT gurus based on continuously changing demands from the business.

This leads to a situation where IT gets frustrated by a chaotic and hard to maintain architecture and ’the business’ does not understand why IT never seems to be able to deliver something without taking 2 years. Add the rise of social media and the need for people to collaborate more in their day to day job, pushing business people towards SaaS solution not supported by IT and it is not hard to see that things can get quite heated. IT departments fight with security guidelines to prevent employees to use social collaboration tools. How hard it may be for some, I am convinced we are (sorry for that: we have) evolved to a situation where the user is more in control (CMS allow non-IT profiles already for years to tweak ’technical’ things). Not to mention the overall ‘IT knowledge’ of younger people.

My conviction is that IT architects should refocus on the core of the organisation: The processes that are stable for years, require a great deal of protection and consists of data that can deliver value to all business units (and external stakeholders like customers). Make this data completely error proof and uptodate should be their main concern. The next step would be to create an open layer (this means not without security!) where the business can attach other solutions to. Being in the world we are at, having stable requirements for business applications is impossible, so IT should not ask the business for it.

This open but stable core functionality gives companies the possibilities to quickly deploy SaaS solutions for a need that is imminent now (without having huge setup costs) without compromising the need for core data stability.

Ps: The link with marketeers is obvious: They also find out the hard way that their customers cannot be managed anymore on a coporate transactional way. This realisation only makes it more synical for IT departments who had been warned: Times they are a changing indeed!

Social Media: Start sharing intern first

There is a lot to say about Social Media in Marketing meetings, among CMO’s and even in the boardroom. But if everybody seems to be willing to ‘share’ with their customers, why is it so hard then to start sharing within your organization? It is amazing how little people do know about what their colleagues are doing. Maybe it is an obsession on everybody’s own scope and the recognition that comes with a internal network that took 15 years to build? The opportunities that are wasted because every person, team, business unit,… is only sharing information on successes (so when the work is done) are enormous.

Just imagine what could happen when today you see that the guy from finance you never met is working on a solvency analysis of a newcomer in the market whilst you are working on a commercial competitive analysis for your sales manager? Or to see that the guy from R&D picked up an idea you had 6 months ago and have developed already a little bit further in your spare time? Or you inspire a co-worker with the market research you did?

An internal social network is technically no work at all. Start doing it.

(Yes, we can help you ;-)).

In-house Ombudsman

Large organization all have the same issue: sooner or later, they begin to build silo’s. Marketing vs. Sales, Sales vs. R&D, R&D vs. IT,… The problem is that when business units are created, they naturally evolve to… well… a separate unit with their own P&L, strategy, focus, internal politics and so on. This can costs a lot to the company: BU’s battle for their own strategy: A quick time to market for a new service rarely is in line with current IT strategy on development strategy.

In theory, there is always a person above these silo’s (be it the CEO, COO,…) that can mitigate between all these parties. However, it is clear that a CEO, who has more urgent or strategic stuff to take care of, mostly becomes the bottle neck of his own organization if he needs to intervene in every development, idea generation, issue…

So just an idea: why not put one guy/girl on the payroll, that reports directly to the CEO with only one task: be the Ombudsman of the company. She should perfectly know the company strategy and the view of the CEO on the focus of the next year and thus can bring all the business units more aligned without wasting time on formal escalation procedures.